Meeting Notes 5.21.09


Meeting Held by Conference Call: From 11:00 am–noon CDT

Meeting Summary

The working group of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute’s inaugural Poetry and New Media project convened for the fifth time by conference call. The meeting was opened to discussion of the recently distributed draft, “Educational Barriers to Access to Poetry and Suggestions for Overcoming These Barriers,” a section of the group’s developing document, “The Case for Expanding Access to Poetry Across New and Existing Media: Recommendations, with an Eye Toward Best Practices.” Katharine Coles reminded the group that the genesis of this section came from the end of the 4.15.09 meeting, when the group identified access as a primary focus of the final document, and was further developed during the 5.1.09 conference call, when the group prioritized education and economics as the main barriers to be addressed in the sections on non-legal barriers to access to poetry.

The group discussed the intended audiences and goals of the Educational Barriers draft. It went on to generate a list of possible audiences, including publishers, K–12 educators, poets teaching in K–12 classes, politicians and legislators, poetry and literary organizations, anthologists, literary estates and executors, educational policy makers, library organizations, philanthropists and foundations, corporate funders, and arts councils. The group discussed whether it should create separate pamphlets for different professions or keep all of the information in one document with subheadings addressed to different audiences or organizational matters, and decided that the final form could be determined further along in the process. The group noted that there is a lot of fluidity among the audience categories, with many people falling into more than one category. For organizational purposes, the group decided to develop drafts with the distinct audiences and recommendations in mind while simultaneously recognizing the large tracts of overlap, with the previously drafted preamble and values statement serving as an overarching preface for the multiple sections of the document.

K. Coles asked the group if there were any additional practical ideas that might be included in the draft, noting as an example the recommendation that poetry organizations work together, in consultation with educators, to develop and make available a modular K–12 poetry curriculum that could be continuously refreshed and available for interested teachers. The group wondered whether private organizations might be encouraged to fund poetry readings in schools, especially as state arts agencies budgets are restricted. The group also considered the difference between students being encouraged to engage poems that have already been written as opposed to their being urged to engage in the creative writing process themselves. The group observed that teach-to-the-test practices had in some states left poetry out of the curriculum altogether, especially if it was dropped as a subject from standardized tests. The possibility of a Poetry Teacher of the Year award was raised as an item for the poetry community to-do list.

Next, the group listed various benefits that students receive from poetry. K. Coles reported on recent conversations with Alberto Ríos and Cornelius Eady, noting their joint recommendation that the group continuously remain cognizant of the idea of poetry as pleasure, and that the documents reflect this awareness. Group members also mentioned other benefits such as playfulness, logical thinking, building on a child’s natural love of words, and the joy of seeing something expressed in a new way. One member offered a quote from Michelle Obama’s speech dedicating the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s new American Wing:

We want all children who believe in their talent to see a way to create a future for themselves in the arts community, be it as a hobby or as a profession.

The arts are not just a nice thing to have or to do if there is free time or if one can afford it. Rather, paintings and poetry, music and fashion, design and dialogue, they all define who we are as a people and provide an account of our history for the next generation.

The group then began to consider economic barriers to access to poetry. A member suggested that this section could in part address philanthropists, foundations, and corporations, providing language for groups and individuals that want to support poetry and those that wish to request funds for poetry programs along with ways of addressing politicians. One possibility the group noted was that of discussing the arts as an engine to stimulate the economy, but group members acknowledged that it is harder to make this case for poetry than it is for Broadway. The group suggested that poets can talk about how poetry stimulates the imagination and should learn to borrow phrases from science, including talking about the benefits of both pure and applied arts. The group also discussed the trend in government toward funding community groups and away from funding individual artists and agreed that the literary community should work to reverse this trend.

The meeting closed with a brief discussion of the final list of questions to be sent to the Council of Literary Magazines and Presses list-serve. K. Coles said that she would use this discussion to (1) reorder the Educational Barriers draft and (2) draft the Economic Barriers section along the same lines. The working group will speak again during the second week of June.


The Poetry and New Media project’s working document reports and meeting summaries reflect a process to collect information, consider ideas and develop recommendations in preparation of a final report. Because the new media environment is ever-changing, some of the assumptions discussed early on became outdated or were seen as no longer relevant as process progressed and new information was considered. Thus, the materials presented here must be considered working, in-process documents which are provided only so that those interested in understanding the approach and interim discussions of the working groups can have a look inside those deliberations. As you read them, please consider them to represent an evolution of a free-flowing conversation about a timely topic and not as substitutes for the final report and the recommendations it contains.

The various views presented herein are not necessarily the views of the Harriet Monroe Poetry Institute or the Poetry Foundation. We look forward to sharing the working group’s final report in early 2010.

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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